Is Brand a Scam . . . or the Real Deal?

Before a business owner invests the time, energy, and resources to systematically build a brand, some skeptics need to be persuaded that all this talk about branding is not a scam on the part of ad agencies and other marketers out to make money.

For starters, no less an authority of the business world than renown entrepreneur Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway fame was recently quoted as saying about the power of brands:  “Give me a $10 billion budget and ask me to bring out another Coca-Cola that makes a dent in Coca-Cola and I can’t do it.”  By inference, this statement seems to suggest that the branding of Coca Cola has a value of at least $10 billion (perhaps more).

Frankly, branding has a longer history than most people realize.

Do an Internet search for the term “history of branding,” and you get an extremely wide variety of responses.  Some talk about the cattle branding done in the 19th century wild west. An organization called Skyward traces the origins back further, saying, “The term derives from the Old Norse word brandr or ‘to burn,’ and refers to the practice of branding livestock, which dates back more than 4,000 years to the Indus Valley.”

Most sources seem to agree that some form of the concept can be attributed to the Egyptians (and ancient B.C. times) with some credit being given to the Chinese, the Greeks, the Romans, and more due to the marks put on items such as pottery to provide information about the creator and creations.  (For a good historical overview, read Skyward’s essay, “What Is Branding? A Brief History” found at https://www.skyword.com/contentstandard/branding-brief-history/.)

Obviously, the term branding has assumed a much different and more complex identity during the second half of the 20th century.  As Taylor Holland notes in the Skyward essay, “The meaning of the word has evolved so much over the centuries that even people who do it for a living have never made the connection between modern marketing and livestock.”

Contemporary branding is a 20th century phenomenon.  The advertising industry is generally credited with broadening the definition to include establishment of a corporate identity and promotion of sales.  During the “Golden Age of Advertising” in the 1950’s and 60’s, the concept started to encompass the creation of a unique personality for products – giving them qualities that often elicited an emotional response that helped foster brand loyalty.

More recently, we have seen the concept expand even further to focus on something called “the brand experience” with customer service and ease of use playing increasingly prominent roles in effective branding.  (For a quick overview of this process of evolution, see “20 milestones in the history of branding” – https://www.creativebloq.com/branding/milestones-history-branding-91516855.)

So . . . What Conclusions Can Be Drawn?

If the act of branding is, indeed, an elaborate scam, the charade is one that dates back thousands of years, has hoodwinked one of the 20th century’s most astute businessmen, and has evolved to reflect the needs of a changing world.  While the act of branding has certainly become more complicated (as has the modern world), the process still involves quick identification of a product through visual symbols such as a logo and the association of those symbols with positive attributes.  These characteristics will, in turn, always be useful to companies that must continually reprove themselves to their existing customers . . . while constantly being on the lookout for new ones.

Not Convinced?

Perhaps you are one of those people who need some numbers before you can believe.  For instance:
“Consistent branding across all channels increases revenue by 23%.”
From 80+ Branding Statistics You Should Know For 2020
– Ryan McCready, June 19, 2019.

If you are one of them, check out these 80 facts and many others found in articles made available by searching “data proving the importance of branding.”

Press Release to Introduce Ourselves as Part of National Small Business Week in May

In an earlier article (Press Releases as Another Opportunity for Branding), we promised to do our first press release on Brand Building for Small Business, using the occasion of National Small Business Week May 3rd through May 9th to formally announce our blog – believing we now have enough content across many basic business areas to warrant introducing ourselves.

brandbuildingforsmallbusiness.com/2019/12/26/press-releases-as-another-opportunity-for-branding/(opens in a new tab)

With the dual hook of this national celebration plus the rollout of our site as a free resource to the targeted audience, we believe we have enough substance to interest an editor. 

Selecting our media targets on a budget was not easy.  For this initial round, we have contacted about a dozen business journals (all of which serve a substantial small business readership) and an inexpensive distribution channel – IssueWire.com – that also circulates the first press release free.  Clearinghouses such as this one can be very useful in getting the message out to a broader audience, though in a less targeted way than developing your own list of carefully selected publications.  That said, this approach makes the processing of releases much easier, and feedback about the distribution is tracked and easily accessible.  In addition to the most basic level of distribution, several special promotions can be added (at an extra cost) that target social media connections and Google search.

Our goal – we hope to gradually increase the readership of our blog and gain some valuable reader insights.

We will keep you posted about our results . . . and will write a follow-up article on the analysis of the results.  Until then, feel free to review our press release piece and provide us with any feedback in the comment section below.

Read our press release.

https://brandbuildingforsmallbusiness.files.wordpress.com/2020/02/celebrating-national-small-business-week-in-may-new-branding-resource-for-small-businesses-issuewire.pdf

Special Note:
Brand Building for Small Business has been identified by Feedspot (www.Feedspot.com) as one of the Top 100 Branding Blogs. Feedspot provides “the most comprehensive list of branding blogs on the Internet” so we are pleased to be part of that group.  To learn more, visit https://blog.feedspot.com/branding_blogs/.

In Search of the Holy Grail (of Branding)

In Search of . . .

Customer Loyalty!

Why is this quality so very important . . . and the ultimate goal of all branding activity?

Once you achieve customer loyalty, consumers will:

  • Choose your product or service over others . . . regardless of your competitors’ behavior.
  • Select you without price shopping . . . and perhaps even be willing to pay a bit more.
  • Become repeat buyers – often for years and potentially crossing multiple generations (an impressive brand success).
  • Recognize your product by your logo and other branding elements without a reference to your name. 
  • Become your best sales force – promoting your product/service through word of mouth.
  • Expect you to make good on brand promises – those qualities you have promoted that have resonated with your audience.
  • Present you with growth opportunities – in part through cross sales.

In other words, once you have achieved customer loyalty, your sales acquisition costs should decrease significantly because less marketing and sales expense should be required to generate the desired revenue.

So . . . How Do You Create Brand Loyalty . . . and Avoid Getting Lost in the Crowd?

While I’m sure you’ve heard about (and probably been pitched) loyalty/incentive programs, such tools are just one of many that are available.

Note:  Loyalty programs encourage shoppers to return to stores where they frequently make purchases. Some of the incentives may include advanced access to new products, additional discounts, or sometimes free merchandise. Customers typically register their personal information with the company and are given a unique identifier, such as a numerical ID or membership card, and use that identifier when making a purchase. (Investopedia) Want to learn more?  Check out these seven examples of some of the best:  https://www.leadquizzes.com/blog/7-examples-of-customer-loyalty-programs/

That said . . .

Instead of focusing on those prepackaged plans, you really just need to expend your energy on building a great brand and consistently promoting your strengths via consistent implementation of the basic branding elements you’ve put into place. Specifically, you should:

  • Provide a customer service experience that reflects your brand. 
  • Utilize social media to establish an online presence.
  • Build a visual brand identity that reflects your products/services and overall operations . . . so the message you are trying to send reflects reality and stands a chance of resonating with your audience.
  • Establish credibility (and trustworthiness) by making good on your brand promises.
  • Incorporate best practices in all that you do AND be the best.
  • Know your audience and make sure your products/services satisfy their needs . . . even as those needs may change.
  • Maintain strict consistency in your spoken, written, and visual message – enhancing recognition.
  • Focus on creating loyal, repeat customers who will continue to frequent your business.  (Why so important . . . ?)

THE LAW OF THE VITAL FEWThe Pareto Principle states that 80% of your company’s future revenue will come from 20% of your current customer base, making it imperative that you focus on creating loyal, repeat customers that will continue to frequent your business. (Written by the Forbes Agency Council)

  • Make positive contributions to society part of your culture.  (To do so can enhance the environmental, social, and governance aspects of your operations, which in turn, enhances the sustainability of your success.)
  • Add extra value above and beyond the basic product/service provided.
  • Check in with your customers regularly via surveys, conversations (research groups), calls, etc. AND really listen to them.

Don’t Be Brand X!

If your business has achieved customer loyalty, you’ve mastered one of the key measures of success – your products and services are no longer generic (. . . and interchangeable) in the eyes of you audience.  You are no longer just another Brand X!  You have a personality and identity; you’ve established a relationship with your customer.

As this article suggests, this goal is accomplished in many ways, including a consistent, well-developed branding program that sends a clear message to your intended audience.

Special Note:
Brand Building for Small Business has been identified by Feedspot (www.Feedspot.com) as one of the Top 100 Branding Blogs. Feedspot provides “the most comprehensive list of branding blogs on the Internet” so we are pleased to be part of that group.  To learn more, visit https://blog.feedspot.com/branding_blogs/.

FREE Pictures Are Also Worth a 1,000 Words (and Can Help Promote Your Brand)!

Special Note:
Brand Building for Small Business has been identified by Feedspot (www.Feedspot.com) as one of the Top 100 Branding Blogs. Feedspot provides “the most comprehensive list of branding blogs on the Internet” so we are pleased to be part of that group.  To learn more, visit https://blog.feedspot.com/branding_blogs/.

So . . . where do you find those free pix?

The preparation of branding materials involves a strong visual element — both your own carefully designed logo AND very often a context-specific supporting image.  While customized artwork is almost always best (whether you are talking about a photo taken to mark an occasion or a specially designed illustration), such efforts typically involve so much time and effort that supporting “stock” pix and drawings are often the only practical alternative to satisfy time-and-financial constraints.

I remember my feelings of panic the first time I had to complete a project without the benefit of a corporate stock image subscription and had a deadline but no budget – and just a single question to be answered for myself:

WHAT DO I DO?!?

Ever Explore Wiki Commons?

Wiki can very often provide a great alternative place to find supporting A/V files – both audio and visual.  As the illustration below suggests, these 50 million plus images are stored in well-catalogued and easy to find locations at various technical specifications.

What you need to know . . .

“Wikimedia Commons is a media file repository making available public domain and freely-licensed educational media content (images, sound and video clips) to everyone, in their own language. It acts as a common repository for the various projects of the Wikimedia Foundation, but you do not need to belong to one of those projects to use media hosted here. . . .

Launched on 7 September 2004, Wikimedia Commons hit the 1,000,000 uploaded media file milestone on 30 November 2006 and currently contains 58,541,226 files and 57,473,117 media collections. . . .

Unlike traditional media repositories, Wikimedia Commons is free. Everyone is allowed to copy, use and modify any files here freely as long as they follow the terms specified by the author; this often means crediting the source and author(s) appropriately and releasing copies/improvements under the same freedom to others. The license conditions of each individual media file can be found on their description page. The Wikimedia Commons database itself and the texts in it are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License. More information on re-use can be found at Commons: Reusing content outside Wikimedia and Commons: First steps/Reuse.”

While much free content is available, you need (as mentioned above) to familiarize yourself with copyright or attribution issues that could be relevant to a specific image.  Often, the creator will allow usage at no charge but will very reasonably want to be given credit for authorship.  To be safe and in full compliance, study the licensing information made available at the Wiki site.

Other Places to Look

Frankly, the Internet provides access to an unbelievable wealth of image resources.  For example, I recently searched for the term: “Best Free Images of 2019.”  The following list was produced:

As you can see, a combination of “stock” photos, illustrations, videos, and sound files are available, and the resource can be more than adequate in addressing your needs.  (You can also find that some paid stock sites offer some very reasonable terms, especially for single images that might be the most suitable for a specific situation.)

While I have not had a chance yet to explore all of these sites at great depth, the very first resource I (gratefully!!) stumbled upon was “Unsplash,” which I highly recommend and found to be quite extensive and well organized with a good search function.  While free, optional attribution is appreciated but not required.  The images themselves are of an excellent quality and professionally prepared to meet most technical specifications you’d encounter.  As I go through others on the list, I expect to find many of them capable of meeting and/or exceeding your typical requirements.

When using these images, I presume most of you have an application  that can handle (and manipulate) these files.  If not, note the vector-based page-layout program Carole recommended in her article on logos – “Design Your Own Logo” (https://brandbuildingforsmallbusiness.com/2019/09/08/brand-basics-part-2-design-your-own-logo/).  Almost all computers now come with a package for manipulating photos (for example:  Microsoft’s Paint program).

A Picture Is (Sometimes) Worth a Thousand Words

 A visual element is always an extremely useful tool in almost any activity involving branding.  Images contain content that reinforce your message to your target audience . . . while artistic aspects of the image offer a message of their own about your style, expertise, and sensibility. 

Note:  The criteria you use for selecting images is sufficiently important to your brand to become part of your “Style Guide.”  That portion of the document should spell out image do’s and don’ts to be sure pictures reinforce the brand message you are working to create.

That said, never overlook the opportunity to incorporate custom artwork by taking photos (your phone likely has a great camera always available for that purpose) or even building an illustration of your own!!

Social Media: One More Reason to Bother! (Betting on the Long Shot)

Recently, my blogging partner published an article about getting started on Facebook, and she also set up a page for our blog – Brand Building for Small Business.  If you followed our lead and did similarly (creating your own site), you’ve probably posted several messages by now . . . and seen little tangible reason for continuing this exercise.

Well . . . the entire message of this article is “Stay the Course!”; you never know who might be paying attention and the kind of impact that person might have on your ultimate success.

Who knows? One day, you just might get kind words from the Oracle of Omaha or some other noteworthy individual that you’d like to pass along!!  Keep posting to get your social media platform ready.

My best real-world example that offers proof of the wisdom of this advice happened just a few short years ago.  I was working for GUARD (my employer at the time and an affiliate of Berkshire Hathaway).  We were just getting started with social media (an intentional delay on the part of our company), and we were experiencing slow growth in the numerical results usually used to measure success – likes, followers, visitors, shares, etc.

We had established a regular schedule (at first weekly; then twice a week shortly thereafter) for posting new content.  At that time, my employer was in the middle of a five+ year stretch of 25% per year growth and had new infrastructure needs to accommodate hiring.  As part of that process, the company had applied to the state for a significant economic development grant.  While that request seemed to have a decent chance of success because many new jobs would be created, lots of viable projects were competing for the same dollars.

Fortunately, we had just closed the books on a very good year. In fact, our run of success had been good enough that the Chairman of our ultimate parent company (Berkshire Hathaway) had elected to give us a “shout out” by name during the heavily publicized and well-attended Annual Meeting of the Shareholders in Omaha, Nebraska.  Turns out that when that gentleman, an individual by the name of Warren Buffett, chooses to praise you, people stop and take notice.

Recognizing an opportunity, we transcribed the sound bite and posted a social media mention of the message, quoting Mr. Buffett’s generous remarks.  While this content generally got more attention than our low norm at that time, the first person to “like” our message was the individual who would be responsible for evaluating our worthiness for the grant we were seeking!

Did our social media posting make a difference?  While we will probably never really know, I can’t help but believe some good was done that more than justified the entirety of the time and effort we had devoted to date to social media.

So . . . the moral of the story (especially during the early stages) is this:  you don’t have to produce eye-popping numbers for your effort to be worthwhile and totally justify the invested time and energy.  You just have to keep using the platform you’ve created to communicate your message (. . . AND YOUR BRAND!) in a number of new ways . . . and hope that somewhere along the line the right set of eyes will read your words.  (Rem:  Strong preparation creates opportunity.) 

Frankly, I’m an optimist . . . so I’m always imagining all sorts of interesting people reading my words on the other end.  Every once in a while, the imagined even becomes reality (and that IS fun)!! 

I hope you have a happy and successful New Year in 2020.   My partner and I would love to hear from you and explore suggested ways in which we might be of help.

Press Releases as Another Opportunity for Branding

Press releases – specifically articles prepared for the media (print or online) to announce noteworthy news – represent a great opportunity to promote your brand . . . FREE OF CHARGE.  However, creating legitimate, credible press releases is more difficult than the average businessowner thinks.  For a submission to succeed, you need:

  • A topic of general interest to your audience (and not just yourself).
  • A writer who understands that most adjectives and adverbs have no place in a press release (and who can pretend to maintain the objectivity of a journalist).
  • An understanding of the ultimate audience being targeted and the media outlets best suited to reach them.
  • An appreciation for proper press release formatting (so you don’t automatically send a signal of amateurism and get rejected unread).
  • The ability to generate quotes and photos to make the piece more sales worthy.
  • A commitment to perform various post-submission steps that can be taken to get the best possible impact.
  • Proper integration of standard “boilerplate” language repeated in each and every release.

While our ultimate plan is to develop separate blog articles for each of these bullet points, I will provide a brief commentary about each for this overview.

TOPICS

Your press release stands the best chance of getting picked up when the editor believes your piece will be of interest to the largest possible number of people.  If you are a company like Apple, almost any subject will get and sustain the attention of editors and readers.  When you are ABC Hauling, you need to work harder.  Employee promotions and hiring can be newsworthy as well as accomplishments.  Awards or recognition by the company or individual staff are good subjects, too.  If your industry has a national day or week-long celebration, find a way to tie into that recognition.  Conversely, don’t assume that some small change to your product or facility has a wide enough appeal to be publicized.

VOICE

When you write a press release, you want to pretend to be a reporter writing a news story, including the way in which third-person pronouns are utilized.  Drop all adjectives and adverbs like excellent product, great staff, wonderful service, etc.  unless such words have been embedded in quoted material attributable to a specific speaker.  A newspaper will not print such language, which marks you as an amateur.  Remember, the media must serve your competition just as well as yourself.

 AUDIENCE

For your story to have the best possible branding impact, pick topics and articles suitable to your demographics.  If you serve an older crowd, don’t tie your piece to topics aimed at teenagers and pick the places for your submission with an eye to audience. (You want information more likely to be picked up by AARP than Seventeen.)

OUTLETS

As suggested above, demographics are one consideration.  However, a number of others come into play.  For example, does the topic warrant national or regional reach . . . or is strictly local more appropriate?  Are you trying to connect with other businesses or the retail marketplace?  If the former, trade magazines might be your target.  Do you have personal contacts that could be useful in making sure your submission gets proper attention?  If so, reach out to them.

As a small business owner, you might not believe you have options other than your local newspaper or your most familiar trade magazine, but other alternatives for extending your reach exist.  Services like PRNewswire or BestWire can be used to get your message placed in many online outlets and get your story into the hands of a wide range of print contracts, too.

I remember many, many, many years ago when I was still at my greenest, our company achieved a special rating that was worthy of being publicized to our targeted audience.  I wrote a press release that got placed locally . . . but my boss received a message from a friend in another state who passed along the rating agency’s version of the press release that had been distributed nationally.  My boss asked me why her friend got the one from the rater but not ours delivered to her desk.

At that point, I had just learned about national distribution services that release information in a very broad manner for a price . . . but had not yet experimented with the process.  Still, I was able to tell my boss that – if she was willing to spend several hundred dollars – I thought I could deliver similar results, too.

Fortunately, the experiment was a success.  Her contact got our story delivered to her desk via the same “google Alert” criteria she already had in place that picked up the Internet placements that had been made.  She passed our version along to my boss, who was pleased.  (We’ll also eventually do a piece on the use of “Alerts” as electronic clipping services.)

While PR distribution specialists such as these can provide some very gratifying immediate results . . . and get your name and story to appear in Internet search results, the impact tends to be transitory.  Don’t expect more than one or two of those search “hits” to still turn up even a few weeks later.  For sales purposes, that may sometimes be enough.  For branding, a bit more “stickiness” would be desirable.  (In deciding whether the benefit is worth the expense, best to be aware of both the strengths and weaknesses of the process.)

FORMAT

To maximize your chances of success, observe a few very basic formatting requirements to make sure your story does not get flagged unread as being prepared by an amateur.  These conventions evolved to help busy editors who get inundated with requests.

QUOTES AND PHOTOS

A press release should always include some quoted material to make the story more immediate and give you an opportunity to include some of the more subjective material not permissible in the body of the article.  For instance, you can quote your CEO making a statement about superior service due to the excellence of the staff . . . while such a statement would otherwise be inappropriate.  That said, show restraint; you’ll stand a better chance of success.   (Future plans are also another good opportunity to introduce quotes.)

If photos of products, places, or quoted parties are available, include them or at least reference their availability. 

POST-SUBMISSION FOLLOWUP

While this subhead could certainly refer to checking back with an editor when a submission has not appeared after a suitably long period of time, our intention was to further discuss the branding potential of press releases due to conscientious follow-up activities.  

Five Ways to Get the Most Mileage from PR Activities

  • Post copies of press release on your web site.  (People will check them out.)
  • Mail or e-mail copies to your customers and business partners.  (Keeps your name in front of their faces in a desirable way and often includes content that serves the same purpose as a testimonial.)
  • Prepare reprints for use in sales presentations with prospects.
  • Prepare social media postings that link to published copies of the story (or at least to your own online repository).
  • Share your published release with your staff to reinforce your brand with them.

The branding that has been incorporated into your well-crafted press release can have much greater and longer impact by taking these few easy and inexpensive steps.

BOILERPLATE

As discussed in our Style Guide, “Boilerplate” language is a short paragraph included in press releases, sales literature, marketing ads, etc. to ensure a consistent, properly branded message gets incorporated whenever possible.  The language should always be included and in the exact same way, knowing repetition is one of the most basic keys to a well-branded product.  (That said, expect editors to frequently cut your “boilerplate,” though you want to keep including the passage both for those occasions when the message is not cut AND to continually help brand yourself in the eyes of the publication.)

More to Come . . .

In the upcoming weeks, we will be doing dedicated articles to each on these aspects of creating press releases and (as is our custom) we will be preparing a press release about our blog that we will submit to several media outlets in conjunction with National Small Business Week in May.  Since we are well aware of the long lead time involved in getting press releases read and published, we are targeting a draft in January for February submission with the hope of some placements for May. (Publication’s schedule vary from weekly to quarterly and several increments in between, so be sure to know the frequency of the ones you are targeting.)

FYI — More information is available about preparing press release from a variety of sources (just do an Internet search on the proper preparation/formatting) . . . so you might want to check out the thoughts of organizations like CBS:   https://www.cbsnews.com/news/how-to-write-a-press-release-with-examples/.